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Maybe you’ve been asked to teach a middle school math intervention or RTI class or an intervention math class for high school. Maybe you’re teaching a regular math class, but so many of your students have so many gaps in their math skills that you’re not able to get through the amount of content that you need to. Maybe you’ve been given resources or maybe you’ve been given the freedom to find your own (a blessing and a curse). I’ve been right where you are and this blog post will help.
In this post I’ll be covering what “just in time” intervention really is, what the benefits are, and how to actually do it well.
Intervention math and struggling math students are my passion. I became a high school math teacher not because I have a love for math, but because I realized math is the “gate keeper” for many historically underserved students - without passing math, students can’t graduate thus creating a gate. Failing math is also the #1 reason students decide to drop out of high school. I wanted to change that. So when I started teaching high school math support and algebra 1 in South Central Los Angeles, I was pumped about the impact I could have. But boy of boy was it harder than I expected. I went on to teach intervention and Algebra 1 in East San Jose and Denver as well. And at each school I was asked to teach something different in my intervention math class. Sometimes I was asked to go back to middle school content entirely and fill in all the gaps just in case they missed it. Sometimes I was asked to teach them the same grade level content and intervene just in time. In this post I will share my personal experiences teaching intervention math and help you learn from my years of learning what works best for students who struggle with math.
Definition: Just in time math interventions vs just in case math interventions
Just in time intervention is a teaching approach that provides students with targeted support at the moment they need it, rather than in advance. It is designed to address specific learning gaps or difficulties as they arise, in real-time, during the teaching and learning process. Just in time interventions are typically shorter and more focused than traditional, "just in case" interventions and aim to provide students with quick and immediate feedback, guidance, and support.
On the other hand, just in case intervention is a teaching approach where support and resources are made available to students before they need it, based on the assumption that they may encounter difficulties in the future or have failed to learn that concept in the past. This approach usually involves preparing and delivering lessons, activities, or resources in advance and making them available to all students, regardless of their individual strengths and weaknesses. While just in case interventions can be beneficial in certain circumstances, they may not be as effective as just in time interventions in addressing students' immediate learning needs and keeping them engaged in the classroom.
Benefits of just in time interventions
I have come to be a believer in just in time interventions instead of just in case interventions, but it wasn’t always this way. Early in my teaching career I enjoyed having a whole period to fill in all the middle school content my students had previously failed. I saw nothing wrong with that. It wasn’t until my fifth year in the classroom when my administration pushed me to “just teach Algebra 1” to my intervention math kids that my eyes were opened to the power of just in time interventions. Here are the 3 main benefits:
Tailored to individual needs
Just in time interventions can be customized to each student's specific strengths and weaknesses, whereas just in case interventions provide a one-size-fits-all approach. I know this sounds overwhelming when you have over 100 students on your roster, but I promise this can be done efficiently.
More efficient: JIT interventions address problems as they arise, reducing the amount of time and resources needed compared to JIC interventions which require preparation and implementation ahead of time.
Increases engagement: JIT interventions tend to be more interactive and engaging for students, helping to maintain their focus and motivation.
How to provide just in time math interventions
Below is my approach to delivering just in time interventions based on real classroom experience and what worked for my students.
Step 1 Fine Tune Your Grade Level Focus.
In order to successfully provide just in time interventions, you are not able to get through all of the material. You have to make time for the just in time supports as you're teaching grade level content so therefore it takes more time to teach the grade level content. Talk with your colleagues and check out a resource like achievethecore.org to determine what content is essential, and what content can get left out for now using their priority content docs for middle school and high school.
Step 2: Brainstorm the Gaps
Once you've identified the essential content from step 1, think about the gaps students might have related to that essential content. For example, the grade level content in Algebra 1 is multi-step equations. The gaps students have for multi-step equations include: two step equations, one step equations, distributive property, and combining like terms. Make a list of all the gaps students have that lead up to the grade level content.
Step 3: Plan with Just In Time Supports
Now that you have the gaps identified from step 2, plan how you will fill that content in just in time for the grade level content. Instead of pausing your grade level content for 6 weeks (or more) to cover all of the basics that we know students struggle with, identify what material they struggle with that leads up to that specific grade level content. For example, before I teach multi-step equations I'll build in additional time for distributive property, combining like terms, one step equations, two step equations and then immediately after I will teach the grade level standard multi-step equations. I'm providing the interventions just in time for the grade level content.
Step 4 Teach the content with true formative assessment.
In his book, Embedded Formative Assessment, Dylan William defines true formative assessment as, "Encompassing all those activities undertaken by teachers, and/or by their students, which provide information to be used as feedback to modify the teaching and learning activities in which they are engaged.” (William, Embedded Formative Assessment, 2011, p. 37). In order to catch up students to grade level we have to provide true formative assessment the way William defines it here. We must use data we gather during the period to "modify the teaching and learning activities in which [we] are engaged." If we're not collecting informal formative feedback throughout the lesson AND responding in real time to that feedback by modifying our plans, students will continue to fall behind. The most effective way to teach intervention lessons everyday is with a combination of gradual release of responsibility, formative assessment, and cold calling. I've combined these research based methods (and added my own twist) into the Math Wars Method™️ which you can learn more about in this FREE mini-workshop.
Let’s wrap up
I hope this has helped you see the benefits of just in time math intervention and that it’s not as hard or intense as you might have thought. The benefits are robust and once you dig into the 4 step process and tweak it and make it your own, you’ll be energized by the student engagement and growth!
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Teaching math to students who struggle is hard. But I've cracked the code. Register for my FREE mini-workshop and learn three surprisingly easy ways to engage even your most challenging and apathetic math students.